Does chemistry outweigh compatibility—or vice versa? Real women share which was more important to them
If you’ve ever gotten an “emergency drinks after work?!?!” text from your BFF, or sat around any brunch table on any Saturday afternoon, you’ve probably talked about this very topic: should you go after that guy with whom you feel amazing chemistry, or should you choose the stable, loyal, forever-there-for-you boyfriend? One’s the exciting wild card, the other’s The Perfect (On Paper) Man. But which guy is best for you?
In life, we have to decide what’s most important to us, whether we’re deciding on a career path, a circle of friends, an upcoming vacation... or a fulfilling, long-term partner. Here, we asked two women who had to decide between fireworks and the slow build: did you choose sparks or security, and why? (Then, check out these 5 Relationship Tips from Divorce Experts.)
I Chose Sparks
Sasha*, content marketer, Austin, TX
"I boarded a plane to Chicago and, as fate would have it, sat down next to a guy we'll call Sparks. We talked through the entire five-hour flight, and clearly shared the same lust for life. I was hooked. When we landed, I played it cool. We parted ways with a hug and exchange of contact information, but as soon as I got in the taxi, I texted my closest friends to tell them I had met The One.
Only problem was, I had a boyfriend (let's call him Security) of two and a half years, with whom I was in a stable relationship back home.
After some confusion on my friends’ part, they eventually encouraged me to text him. (After all, how often do you find a connection like this?) I held back. I even drafted an email to him that, to this day, sits in my drafts folder—but he reached out to me first. After a day or two of texting, I couldn’t stop myself. I asked Sparks if he had felt what I felt.
His answer was yes. And we were both convinced that the connection between us was tangible—not to mention tantalizing. We flirted via text, and set up another meeting ASAP, even though Sparks was also dating someone before he has boarded that crazy flight with me.
Yet when I got home, I just knew. Security picked me up from the airport, and I truly felt I could not lead him on after experiencing such intense chemistry with Sparks—something I’d never felt with my boyfriend.
Whereas Sparks and I had instantly connected, since we were into all the same things—health, fitness, adventures, and silly sense of humor about life—Security and I just seemed worlds away, as stable as our relationship was. We didn’t share that passion for exploration that I had, and he wasn't open to trying new things. After some time together, I had thought I could deal with our differences—until I met Sparks, and all that went out the window.
I broke up with Security the day after my first real meeting with Sparks.
During our date, the connection between us was even more electric, so much so that I met his family soon after—from parents to step-siblings and beyond. He planned his life with me then and there.
Things went fast. But like they so often do, Sparks and I eventually slowed down and fizzled out after four intense months together. He lived in Hawaii, I lived in Texas. And although we FaceTimed daily, with each passing week, the sparks weren’t enough. I felt him pull away. He eventually asked to simply be friends.
Although things ended abruptly and with a lot of pain, I don't regret choosing Sparks over my stable boyfriend. Being with Sparks was better than thinking, ‘What if?’ I didn’t want to forever wonder what I was missing out on after experiencing something as electric as that initial connection I had with Sparks.
Although the repercussions of taking a risk like that hurts, it led me to far better realizations of what I want in the person I ultimately want to spend the rest of my life with. Although Sparks and I didn't work out, I've now met someone who I know I will be with for the rest of my life—and I know that he's really The One because of what I learned from my experience with Sparks. We felt right, like I had finally met someone who loved me and shared the same voracity for life that I have.
I've been with my new boyfriend for over a year now, and although I did feel sparks early, they were more gradual and felt far less intense—in a good way. My feelings for him developed slowly, but strong. I saw Sparks’ kindness in my new boyfriend, but without the subconscious selfishness that had wore me down. Over time, I saw Sparks could be childish, and ambitious as he was, it was not the right, healthy kind of drive. My now-boyfriend is mature enough to understand the ins and outs of life, taking it by the horns, but in a fun and responsible way.
I think feeling stable and secure, with some sparks thrown in, is your best bet. A relationship needs to have voracity and energy to keep you going and push you to try new things, but it still has to be stable enough for you to take risks, reap rewards and have a soft place to fall in the end.” (Here are more 6 Things You Should Always Ask for in a Relationship.)
I Chose Security
Jillian*, blogger, Detroit, MI
“I met Sparks on a breezy May evening at a restaurant in the city. I was immediately struck by his bold approach, his blue eyes, and his razor-sharp wit—for which I am a sucker. On top of that, he was a tall, hotshot real-estate broker breaking new ground in his field. We hit it off immediately, and I was hooked. The connection was scintillating; I finally felt something truly electric after years of feeling next to nothing.
However, it took just one date to realize that Sparks and I weren’t on the same page. We were in different stages of our relationship lives. Semi-fresh off a long-term breakup, he wasn’t looking for anything serious. I, on the other hand, knew I was looking for nothing less. Since I’m not a see-me-whenever, casual kind of girl, I indicated dating me would require more of a commitment. After throwing down the gauntlet, he blew me off and walked away. Despite the connection, I had to live with that.
Not long after, I met Security. He was different from Sparks in so many ways, but still charming, interesting and an undoubtedly brilliant businessman. I didn’t see fireworks, but I saw so many positive qualities. Security also progressed our relationship in a straightforward, no-need-for-second-guessing sort of way. I knew where we stood, always, and I knew we were looking for the same thing. Soon, he asked me to be in a relationship, and not long after, meet his family—which is precisely when Sparks re-emerged with one ill-timed text to throw me off course. What was I going to do?
Sparks peppered me with texts over the next week or so. While I desperately wanted him to ask me out so we could explore our connection once and for all, I weighed my decision about Security—knowing I was nearing a breaking point. Finally, we all collided on one hot night in late June. While I was out hanging out my BFF and Security, I encountered Sparks out with another new girl. A different girl. We saw each other, said nothing, and carried on, but in that moment, there was no more waiting. Knowing Sparks was still playing the field and holding me off, I realized I had to choose right then and there. It wasn't fair any other way.
Agonizingly and painstakingly at first, I made it official with Security. When Sparks texted a little over a week later and asked to get a drink, I had to say no.
Security was the sure thing at that moment, but I chose him for real reasons beyond that. He was supportive and strong, he asked me what I needed from a relationship from the get-go, and he had done everything right since. (Read more of the The Top 5 Questions to Ask in a New Relationship.) I knew he'd be a faithful boyfriend. I would have never known this with Sparks—who I regularly saw out and about in the city with a string of similar-looking blondes.
My ending is a happy one... although it didn't work out with Security, as work ate up more of his time and energy than our relationship could handle. However, he was a great, faithful, thoughtful boyfriend while we were together, and I do not regret choosing him at all. In fact sparks definitely grew, and eventually flew, in our secure relationship. The difference? They were the kind you get with a partner-in-crime that you truly trust and enjoy being around—not the result of anxiety over what your partner is doing at any given moment.
If faced with a similar decision again, I'd like to think I'd choose the stable guy over the guy with whom I see fireworks. There's a reason you get sparks with these kinds of guys; they’re the result of friction. It can be hot, yes, but usually not-so-great for a long-term relationship.”
"You can’t help what you’re attracted to. You like certain men because they’re smart and they’re hot, or whatever it is that turns you on.
But you can acknowledge that those men you’re attracted to aren’t always good long-term relationship partners. You can acknowledge that attraction can be blinding and allow you to overlook a man’s flaws for way too long. You can acknowledge that attraction isn’t either a ‘10’ or a ‘1’—that it's usually something in between. And you can acknowledge that an addiction to smart, hot, aloof, and inaccessible men isn’t really working.
If 95 percent of your life is spent on matters that are neither ‘brainy’ nor ‘sexy,’ wouldn’t it make sense to find a partner who is compatible in all the other areas? Rather than finding the smartest, hottest guy imaginable who doesn’t want to throw dinner parties, doesn’t want to see your mother, doesn’t want to let you choose the furniture you want, and doesn’t want to raise a family together? I think so. Naturally, you have to find your partner attractive and intelligent, but he doesn’t have to be the most attractive or the most intelligent for you to have a very happy life together.
I’ve long advocated for putting compatibility on the same level as chemistry, instead of making chemistry the most important factor in your decision-making. Because, as you know, you can get the smartest, hottest, tallest, richest guy in the world…and you’ll most likely discover that he’s a selfish narcissist who’s just not that into you. Thus, there is wisdom in compromising a little on looks and brains in order to find the happiness that has eluded you when you exalt “attraction” above all.
Here are the numbers I find work best: 7 chemistry, 10 compatibility. That’s the sweet spot. Most choose 10 chemistry and 3 compatibility or 4 chemistry 10 compatibility and wonder why it doesn’t work.
There’s a leap of faith that you have to make in any relationship. You make this leap of faith based on trust and character, not based on attraction or wealth. You make this leap of faith when you’ve found your best friend, someone who makes you laugh, who has your back, who values the same things in life, and, yes, who is on the same page sexually. But most importantly, you make this leap of faith when you find the person who allows you to be yourself, to let down your guard, to feel safe. (Here are more 6 Not-So-Obvious Signs He’s a Keeper.)
Keep chasing partners who don’t make you feel safe, and you’ll always find yourself getting hurt. Please don’t think your partner has to leave you breathless. The ones who leave you breathless—as you already know—tend to be the ones who leave. Just consider the relative importance of a chiseled jawline and a Masters degree versus the ability to love you unconditionally and the desire to make you happy. I think it’s clear what should win out."
*Names have been changed for privacy